The Blue Ridge Intertribal Pow Wow Association
The Association is a 501c3 nonprofit organization founded in 2005 by Mabel Benjamin, with headquarters in her store, Rocks & Things, in downtown Spruce Pine, NC. Its mission is to sponsor powwow events and generally serve as an educational resource on Native American history and culture in western North Carolina and neighboring communities. The Association currently sponsors annual powwows (see schedule), and is a continuous source of information and referrals for public schools, Scout troops, senior centers, churches, libraries, civic groups and tribal organizations across the region.
The Pow Wow in Native American History
Powwows emerged in late 19th Century North America as a way to reclaim, practice, celebrate, and pass on to the next generation important elements of the Native American peoples' cultural heritage. Traditional dance ceremonies and spiritual practice had been aggressively banned by the U.S. government. Children were being separated from their families so they could not learn their Native languages or dress in their Native clothing. Indigenous communities, however, began to find they could be permitted--indeed, encouraged--to assemble in "social" gatherings scheduled on the holidays of the dominant culture, in which music and dance traditions could be exhibited as performance art, and traditional trading and honoring customs could be revived in the context of Anglo-European values and commerce. These strategies continued to evolve to the present day, empowering successive generations of Native people and remaining an important vehicle for cultural education, preservation, communication, and pride.
What to Expect at a Pow Wow
Most powwows have some common features that the public can expect to enjoy when they attend. These include "grand entry" parades and ceremonies that start the formal programming once or twice a day, dancing and drumming exhibitions and competitions, "intertribal" dance segments in which the public is invited to participate (no experience or special clothing necessary!), food and craft vendors, craft demonstrations (like flutemaking, drummaking, flintknapping, beadwork, leatherwork, basketry), storytelling, facepainting, one or more tipis or other historically-outfitted lodge structures to explore, and continuous narratives by the MC to explain the history and meaning of each part of the programmed activities and displays. Some will also schedule a traditional "trading blanket" event, in which a blanket is laid out for Native artists and crafters to display selected items for sale or trade. You will find that everything at a powwow, as in all aspects of Native life, is laid out and performed in circles, to honor the cycle of life and maintain harmony with the forces of nature.